Inspiration for Health Ministry, by LEM

“The Multitudes in the Valley” 3:14

Reaching Out to People of Different Cultures and Religions

How to Reach Out to Different Cultures and Religions

Effectiveness in Health Evangelism (For this study, read also: Ministry of Healing Chapter 11)

Here are some concepts of “missiology” which can help us to be more effective in health evangelism efforts to all different people groups.  It works for overseas/cross-cultural missions and it also works at home in our own country- because there are so many different cultures here and also age groups which have their own “culture” as well.

We must reach people in the context of their own culture when possible, using those things which are compatible with Christianity. The book “Eternity in their Hearts” by Don Richardson, based on the principle of Ecclesiastes 3:11, goes into this in detail, with examples from all over the world of how it seems God has allowed some cultural examples and stories that people are familiar with to be used in explaining truths to people.  The book outlines that the reason why some mission efforts have failed in the past is because they did not make efforts to understand the culture or build on some pre-existing concepts of the God of heaven which were good and useful.

Ellen White in the book Desire of Ages, chapter 6, describes in detail the wisemen who came seeking Jesus. God gave her special insight about this story. These men were being lead by God and were more familiar with some of the scriptures and prophecies than the Jews were.  They were judged as pagan and their ideas dismissed due to the pride of the Jews who looked at them superficially, but God knew their hearts.

Understanding people’s religious background and viewpoints is also important.  Mark Findley’s book “Studying Together” contains a useful guide toward the back about the Various belief systems of multiple different religions and suggestions for how to reach them.

What are some methods we can use that follow these concepts?

-First, we need to find out what people’s world view is and do cultural studies.  We must study the culture, religion and world view of other people, (and ideally the language, in the case of foreign missions) to find out what they understand about life and the universe, and what kinds of things they might have questions about.  When reaching out to foreign cultures, some missionary organizations, such as Adventist Fronteir Missions, has missionaries study the culture and language for up to 2 years before even beginning to try to work among the people. 

-Have social interactions within the culture, listen and learn what is important to people and what kinds of things they talk about.  Those who minister within their birth culture will have an easier time, but it is still important to spend time getting to know each person that you hope to influence. It’s important to listen and take the time to understand people.   

-Study to find out what kinds of unanswered spiritual questions people may have in their hearts, as well as what errors people may have in their understanding of God and the universe.  Then we will know where to begin gently guiding them into more truth. Find out what people’s views are about life after death, creation, etc. great controversy/sin, the reason for sadness in the world, etc.  Knowing what people’s deep questions are can help us find a point of interest that could cause people to become interested in what we have to share. 

-Discover what truths they may already understand.  Learning what elements of their culture and understanding might contain elements of truths which we can build on.  Try to find out what they already know about God. Understanding people’s culture and religion can help us know where people are coming from, and what types of concepts we need to introduce people to.  Many religions and cultures already have beliefs compatable with Christianity and the Bible. Also, People often have strong concepts of right and wrong based on their conscience, which we can encourage, while at the same time seeking to help them to refine and develop their understanding.

Example of preexisting truths; there are many cultures which have flood stories all over the world that are similar to what the Bible teaches.  The stories have usually been altered throughout the years, so we should not encourage people to view them as entirely factual, but we might be able to help them understand that some of these ledgends originated from real things which happened, and the original story is preserved in the Bible.

In some cases in which people can see that the Bible helps explain their own culture better, in relation to the ancient history of the world and its origins, it can help them value the Bible’s relevance to them personally.  This is truth with the history of Ancient China.  There is a lot of evidence that the ancient Chinese people were faithful worshipers of the God of heaven, and the ancient Chinese characters are a pictographic system which includes multiple references to things which the Bible talks about – such as Noah’s ark with 8 people on it, the Garden of Eden, etc.  Without the Bible there is no context for understanding the true meaning of many things about Chinese culture.

Another example is the story of Don Richardson’s “Peace Child,” in which he as a missionary used a cultural practice to draw an analogy of what Jesus did for humanity when he came to earth.  The practice was the giving of a child from a different tribe to end a war.  

If we first understand people, we then can help people understand things like Christ, the great controversy between God and Satan, etc. within context of culture, as far as possible, sometimes using things they are familiar with to build on.  If the people can understand that what you’re bringing in is not something that is just foreign, but rather something that fulfills their culture, they will be more willing to accept it. It is important to try to reach people in the context of their own culture, but without compromising the truth. 

To reach those of different religions we need to study to understand the beliefs of those of different religions, and also of non-Christians.  Each person is individual and may not believe everything exactly the same way as others of their religious group, so it is an individual work of getting to know people.

Health Ministry and Culture;

We should also find out what people’s health beliefs are based on culture and religion (cold fruits and warm ones, etc). There are usually some good concepts which can be built on or encouraged, and which we can include or acknowledge in our efforts to reach people, and there are also usually misconcepts which we will need to make efforts to correct and help them learn more accurate viewpoints.  Ideas regarding health should not all be accepted – they must be also scientifically valid and not in conflict with Christianity. Yet we should try to be understanding.            

We should also consider the specific health problems common to that people group, culture or age group.  Do research and study the common health problems, the reasons for these issues and what spiritual or ideological problems they may be related to.  For example, smoking or drinking alcohol among teens may be common, which could be related to several social issues including peer pressure but also lack of the social support of strong relationships with caring adults.  Much research has shown that children and teenagers who have strong relationships with caring adults do not engage in nearly as many high risk behaviors.  Understanding this helps us know that the substance use and abuse may be merely a symptom of loneliness or lack of direction and guidance from loving relationships, and we can focus our efforts on caring for them as well as helping them find stronger support systems.

The example of Jesus’ caring for people’s physical needs is one of the best ways to reach people.  We can use health evangelism anywhere. Learn first aid and family care, do simple hydrotherapy for comfort, colds, and other things.  Even offering someone a simple cup of herb tea when they are sick can help to establish a bond of caring in which people are aware that you care for them.

In some areas that have no access to medical care of any kind, some health education efforts can be made if organized in a careful manner. The book “Where there is no doctor,” is extremely helpful in developing a plan to know how to help people in those types of situations. Health evangelism has been used in places such as the Phillipines and Papua New Guinnea for bush medicine, doing primitive medical missionary work and health teaching in the jungle, etc. 


1)     We should not make the mistake of letting go of the uniqueness of Christianity in our effort to reach people in their cultures.  For example, it’s not a good idea to try to turn church into a dance party with rock music based on the knowledge that young people are tempted to drink, party and dance.  Christianity is not compatible with thrill-seeking entertainment world.  Love is what will change lives- not more thrills and glitters.  This is not a numbers game – how many people we attract is a superficial measure which has nothing to do with true fruits of Christian work.  Our goal is to convert people to Christ and his love, rather than convert the church to become like the hedonistic world.  The things of this world are inherently dissatisfying to people, and also jangle the nerves with overstimulation that causes an unhappy let-down after the “party,” that’s why they cannot be happy with those things and are in need of knowing God’s love.  It will not help if we just offer people more of the same unsatisfying things that they can find anywhere in the world.  They  have no special reason to come to church if what we have to offer is almost the same as the world.

2)     As we learn about people’s culture and seek to guide them into more truth, be very careful to avoid acting condescending or drawing attention to ourselves as a “wise” person who wants personal recognition.  Only real Christian virtues of humility and love will bring conversions.  People will see right through a phony, self-serving attitude on your face.  That’s why many Christian efforts are unsuccessful, because people are not truly sincere in their efforts to reach others.

Example of ministry in the culture of Taiwan- how to introduce God to people in Chinese culture for establishment of the gospel in Taiwan 

-Different cultural settings are there in Taiwan include; Christian, Buddhist, atheist/secular, young, elderly, aboriginal, foreigners, those who have gone abroad, different languages, elderly who know Japanese and Taiwanese

-Taiwanese cultural understandings of God include some prophecies of Christ, etc. Menicus messianic prophecies, etc. calling the sky “heaven” (‘tian’), teachings of righteousness and respect for elders that matches the Bible. The Chinese characters confirm many Bible stories, especially the ancient oracle bone characters but even some of the modern traditional characters.  For example the word “boat” pictures 8 individuals, a reference to Noah’s family. (reference “God and the Ancient Chinese” by Samuel Wang, and ancient Chinese character study).

            -Health message and interest in natural healing is similar to Chinese culture interest in herbs and more natural healing, massage etc. There are many vegetarians already in Taiwan- they can be interested in sharing vegetarian recipes, etc.)

-Some cultural health concepts we can accept, if they are compatible with Christianity.  Not all are compatible, though… concepts such as energy, Feng Shui, etc. are based on magical pagan ideas and nature worship. 

-Taiwan has many people in the valleys who are not Christian. The mountain people/aboriginal are more likely to be Christian here. 

Ellen White Quotes: Who was Ellen White? ; Ellen White named by Smithsonian among the 100 most significant Americans of all time , EGW Link 2

At Capernaum Jesus dwelt in the intervals of His journeys to and fro, and it came to be known as "His own city." It was on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and near the borders of the beautiful plain of Gennesaret, if not actually upon it. {DA 252.1}

Capernaum itself was well adapted to be the center of the Saviour's work. Being on the highway from Damascus to Jerusalem and Egypt, and to the Mediterranean Sea, it was a great thoroughfare of travel. People from many lands passed through the city, or tarried for rest in their journeyings to and fro. Here Jesus could meet all nations and all ranks, the rich and great as well as the poor and lowly, and His lessons would be carried to other countries and into many households. Investigation of the prophecies would thus be excited, attention would be directed to the Saviour, and His mission would be brought before the world. {DA 252.3}